OCRWC 2015 post-mortem and critical commentary
By now you have seen a hundred Facebook status updates about how OCRWC 2015 was someone’s “favorite obstacle race EVAR”, life-changing, mind-blowing, etc. etc. etc.
While unconditional accolades are nice to hear, they are kinda useless.
Let’s dig in.
My overall reaction to the event can be summarized in one sentence:
“Wow. These guys have balls”.
Allow me to elaborate.
Seth Godin wrote in his blog once about “the two-review technique”:
As you work on your project (your presentation, your plan, your speech, your recipe, your…) imagine that it’s the sort of thing that could be reviewed on Amazon.
Now, write (actually write down) two different reviews:
First, a 5 star review, a review by someone who gets it, who is moved, who is eager to applaud your guts and vision.
And then, a 1 star review, an angry screed, not from the usual flyby troll, but from someone who actually experienced your work and hated it.
Okay, you’ve got two reviews, here’s the question:
Are you working to make it more likely that the 5 star reviews are more intense, more numerous and more truthful than ever, or…
Are you working to minimize the number of 1 star reviews?
Very hard to obsess about both, since they tend to happen together.
The thing is, if you work to minimize criticism, you have surrendered the beauty and greatness of what you’ve set out to build.
The OCRWC organizers did not aim to minimize criticism. They aimed to maximize 5-star reviews.
Here’s how they did it:
Registration, parking, logistics? Nothing remarkable. Which means everything was actually smooth as butter. Those details at a race are like event planning details at a wedding – if all goes well, you should not notice any of them.
The main parking lot was few miles away from the start, so shuttles ran back and forth. Meanwhile, you also had the choice of paying $25 (instead of $10), and parking really close. Makes sense to me.
Staggered start sorted by age groups was very unique, as most events start all elite competitors at the same time, even as the timing chips determine the placing later.
Here, a 45-year old woman knew exactly who she was racing against. Accidental? Not in the slightest.
OCRWC COO, Brad Kloha says: “We want athletes to line up with their direct competition. Eye each other at the start line, and if they cross the finish line first, to know definitively, that they are the champion (or 2nd or 3rd)”.
I also really liked the left lane rule – during the race, the left lane of each obstacle was reserved for the racers, attempting the obstacle for the first time. [The complete 2015 Athlete Guide & Rulebook can be found here].
Once you failed an obstacle, you had to use one of the other lanes – this allowed fast racers to go through the course, minimizing wait times. The bottlenecks still happened, but I believe this approach alleviated those significantly.
The terrain consisted mostly of technical trail – lots of ankle busters. Really steep hills, rocky sections and water crossings notwithstanding, large portions of the course were runnable. Hence, Jonathan Albon’s blistering pace and the winning time of 1:33:26. [You can see complete results here].
My prediction for the winning finishing time as about 1:30. Brakken Kraker, who I dragged into this bet as well, expected something closer to 1:45, given that it took Albon about 1:30 last year, and the course was longer this year.
The course was very water heavy – this was less of an issue for later starts, but the racers in the early morning waves struggled with the cold.
Remarkably, after this became clear, the race organizers stayed up until early Sunday morning to rethink the course for the team race and eliminate almost all of the water.
Brad Kloha explained the last minute change: “Our philosophy is to challenge World Class athletes on a World Class course and give them a World Class experience. And in no way does that include purposely putting athletes in a situation of discomfort or danger”.
The race lost its momentum for me around six or seven miles in. You know when you watch a TV show and they spend a wee bit too much time on character development? And you find yourself looking out of the window, thinking “Come on, already. Get on with it!”.
I was curious to know that the race course was 1-2 miles longer this year than last year – mostly to include water crossings. While the river was tons of fun, I’d be wary of the distance creep that most other race series suffer from, making the championship race longer and longer every year.
Obstacle sequencing. At no point I felt intentionally fucked over by the race director. [I bet you know the feeling. Hi, Norm!] None of this “let’s throw you under the barbed wire and mud with the consistency of mashed potatoes” and then have the Rig right after silliness.
Was that intentional also? “Yes”, says Garfield Griffiths, the Director of Race Operations, “I want the athletes to succeed”.
Are you sensing a theme yet? This whole event was intentional. Carefully designed. Thought out. No coincidences. Details mattered.
DISTANCE & ELEVATION
I clocked 9.2 miles (14.79km), and 973m (3,192 ft) of elevation – these numbers are close to what other racers measured on course.
My full GPS details here.
Obstacles. My, oh my, obstacles.
It has been a while since obstacles made me say “What in the world…?”. Yet, this was my experience with many obstacles at this event. The Destroyer, the huge water slide, Dragon’s Back, and more.
You can see a play-by-play video of all 53+ obstacles from Adam Kwitko below:
And, of course, I couldn’t leave out a detailed race recap from Morgan MacKay:
Meanwhile, here’s a detailed map of the course, and some of my comments:
04 Wreck Bag Carry
I loved Wreck Bags – solid, high quality piece of equipment for a heavy carry made all the difference. A very boring run-of-the-mill obstacle with a brilliant twist, as racers were required to traverse a number of obstacles WITH the bag. Well done.
05 Pipe Dreams
This obstacle appeared early on, and claimed the wristbands of many racers struggling with grip strength. Yet, for most, it was fairly straightforward and fast obstacle.
This was one of the permanent obstacles on the course. The climb is… tall. Those with fear of heights would have an issue.
This was definitely in the WTF category. What do I do with this? 🙂
Note that this obstacle was specifically adjusted for shorter racers – ledge on the edge, and a side step. Yet those who could jump up to reach the first hold and pull up their weight would not need the supports.
12 Dragon’s Back
This was a guest obstacle from The Toughest race series. I loved this obstacle – it was definitely more psychological, than physical. Yet, I am not convinced.
While, it’s fun for fitter and more experienced athletes, take away confidence and a bit of kinaesthetic awareness, and this obstacle is begging for an injury. The surface of the incline wall also becomes extremely slippery, as more racers go through, making it more dangerous for slower racers. Perhaps, at least some mulch next time?
16 Monkey Bars
These were looong! A notable difference from some of the other race series is that you were allowed to use your feet.
17 Over Unders
WATER!!! Think these are easy? Water made them plenty challenging. Yet… Notice the order! First monkey bars, then over unders. It could have been so easy to reverse the order, and complete destroy racers on the monkey bars with wet grip.
24 Sternum Checker (#1)
Oh, how much hate this poor obstacle received. I have not seen so much wrath since… Actually, I have not seen so much wrath regarding a specific obstacle. Period. This spurred a blog post of its own. You should read it.
25 Platinum Rig (#1)
This obstacle took out the most wristbands.
It was not that difficult of a rig, however, most racers would benefit on skipping the bar and the t-bar, and focusing on the rings. Yet, I also witnessed too many racers being so focused on skipping the bar, that they put themselves at a disadvantage.
The story of the day for this obstacle goes to Robert Killian, who battled hypothermia and non-functioning grip at this obstacle, and finally conquered it after what seemed like dozens of attempts.
This was a bitch. If my lower body looks like someone has been beating me with a baseball bat, it’s because of the Weaver.
In fact, I suggested to the race director that this obstacle should be renamed to the Baseball Bat. He promised the consider the name change (right, Garfield?).
31 Bucket Carry
Simple. Yet well executed. All the buckets were the same weight – about 40-45lb. And sealed. You could carry them any way you wanted (except rolling, obviously). Result? Less instructions for volunteers, and less temptation to cheat.
One Wreck Bag (50lb) for women, and two Wreck Bags (100lb) for men. Notice this was the only gendered obstacle in the entire race. I did the men’s weight, and it was heavy, but doable.
The race director later pointed out that the original intent was to have this obstacle the same for men and women as well. If this is the case in the future, I’d recommend something in the 70lb range. [And this, of course, raises the question of whether a completely unisex and fair obstacle race is possible? Discussion for another post.]
37 Rope Climb
Knotless rope in the water to break your (possible) fall. Male elites demonstrated an ultra fast of doing this, provided you had plenty of grip strength and just enough confidence – jump past the water onto the rope and arm yourself all the way to the top to ring the bell. Using the legs requires less strength, but slows you down.
This was my favorite freaking obstacle – walk the wire, all Cirque du Soleil and shit? Yes, please.
44 Tyrolean Traverse
Two traverses back to back with a wooden rest in the middle. I found the setup to be a bit fishy – this is where I slammed my back into the divider hard.
45 Pinnacle Hill
Tall climb! Sharp climb! Use the rope. Engage the core. This one really really burned out the forearms.
The best slide in the sport hands down. Ultra fast.
I was happy to see that it was set up with the lip and the tarp underneath – one of the most common problems with these obstacles is that the running water on top of the slide washes out the ground underneath, exposing sharp rocks and roots. Some of my friends have butt scars to prove it.
50 Tip of the Spear
One of the signature obstacles from the BattleFrog series – the racer has to traverse across a wall, using hanging ropes. At OCRWC, there were two walls with a balance beam in between. [Notice the intelligent design – take two classic obstacles and combine them into one more challenging one].
The trick here was to keep your feet above your hips (otherwise, you just slid down), and to actually use your feet, pushing against the wall, rather than to rely on grip strength alone – you’d need that very soon after.
52 The Skull Valley
This was a brilliant obstacle combo, focusing primarily on grip and coordination (all at the very end of a challenging course).
I’d argue that, given the multi-step nature of the obstacle, the set up was too narrow for the volume of athletes, so this was one of the spots that resulted in a bottleneck. [Note that one of the waves around my start time was accidentally released 5-7 minutes earlier than planned, so that contributed to the crowding].
While we have wondered about the true meaning of elite, OCRWC introduced strict qualifying criteria for the event, and stuck to them.
While we have been philosophizing about the merit of drug testing in the sport, OCRWC went ahead and became the first event to comply with WADA guidelines.
While we have mused about whether obstacle racing would ever make to to the Olympics, the power trio of Adrian Bijanada, Brad Kloha, and Garfield Griffiths (plus the entire OCRWC team) have done more in two events to further the sport than most imagined possible.
They did not ask permission. They just did.
OCRWC IS the closest that I have seen to a professional sporting event in the sport of obstacle racing.
My only regret is that I have not been at the inaugural event last year to fully appreciate the evolution that has already taken place.
I am looking forward to seeing what 2016 will bring.
YOUR TURN: Were you at OCRWC 2015? What was your experience like? How did it compare to your favorite obstacle race? Will you make qualification your goal for the next racing season?
OH, and if you have some awesome photos of the obstacles mentioned above, gimme a holler, and I’ll feature them in this post.